I had to get up really early that morning. Like 4:30. Back then I was doing some contracting work on the side. Fixing the stuff for small companies who didn't have the need to hire a full time computer geek. This particular company sold electrical parts. And they had an army of sales people who roamed the territory trying to peddle their wares. That army had to login to the main office to get their email and submit orders, etc. They did this, of course, over the internet. Which meant that when they had a problem with their internet firewall, they'd call me to come and fix it. And I had to do it ASAP because their army couldn't submit orders. Without the orders, no business. So I got up and drove the 45 minutes to their location south of the city. So that they could be back on line before the army started trying to submit the orders for Tuesday.
The problem took longer to fix than I thought it would. When I left, it was a bright sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. It was quite a contrast to when I got there, where it was still basically night time. I left for my normal job. I got there about 7:30-ish. This was quite a bit earlier than my normal arrival time of 9am.
I don't remember what it was that I did at first. I occupied about nearly two hours before a friend of mine contacted me on AOL instant messenger. Back then my (very large) company still allowed AIM in and out through their firewall.
My friend asked me if I used to work in the World Trade Center because he'd remembered that several months and one company prior, I had spent a lot of time in New York. I told him, "No. I didn't work in the WTC, but the company I contracted with was one block away. So, I spent a lot of time in the area and stayed in the WTC Marriot a couple of times. Why?"
"Because an airplane just flew into one of the buildings."
"Into one of the WTC buildings?"
"Wow, is the fog really thick or something?"
"No. It's a completely clear day."
Most of the conversation, I don't specifically remember. I remember it went something like that. I think that there was more of me trying to clarify what he said, becuase it didn't make sense. But I've forgotten most of it. But I remember this part, exactly.
"How do you accidentally fly an airplane into a building on a clear day?"
I also remember the feeling of being condescending. Of thinking, how bad of a pilot do you have to be for that to happen. I even made fun of the pilot. I wasn't taking the situation seriously. My friend and I were cracking jokes back and forth. I thought it was just an accident. Until he wrote:
"Holy shit! Another plane just flew into the other building."
"What? You must be reading some report on the internet that has it confused."
"No, no. I saw it on TV. I saw the plane fly into the building. It was a big plane. They just showed it."
"You saw it! You saw a big airplane crash into the building. One of the other WTC buildings?"
"Yes. The other tower. Now both buildings have smoke coming out of them."
I wasn't yet convinced that this was a 2nd plane.
"Are you sure this isn't just a replay of the one crash?"
"I've been watching this for a while, and they haven't showed any replays of the first crash."
"And you can see both buildings on fire at the same time?"
"Yes. Right now, they're showing both buildings in the same shot burning."
There was a long pause where neither of us typed anything. And then I wrote, "I gotta go. I have to find a TV."
When I got out of my cube, there were only a 3-4 other people also looking for a TV. We converged on the conference room. We turned it on. We didn't have to switch the channel. Every channel was covering this. They showed the replay of the 2nd plane crashing into the tower. They had lots of talking heads repeating facts. And tons of different angles. Mostly from helicopters.
In the room. Nobody said anything. Not a single word. For at least 30 minutes. I remember fighting with myself in my head. There's no way that this is an accident. It can't possibly be an accident. But if that's true, then who on earth would want to do this? What is their purpose? And holy crap! There were people on those planes. They were just trying to get somewhere. Maybe to a business meeting. Maybe vacation. Maybe there were kids on those planes!
I don't know who in the room broke the silence first, but someone did and I think everyone was having the same internal arguments that I had. Becuase that's what we talked about. People being on the airplanes. Someone else mentioned that there were probably people at their desks. And how would the people above the accident get down? Then someone asked, does our company have any people in that building? No one knew.
The news coverage switched. They were covering something that had happened at the pentagon. Another plane crash. And here's another thing that I remember vividly. The coverage went split screen. In the upper left they had coverage of smoke and fire at the pentagon. In the lower right, in a much smaller area, they had coverage of NYC. I had my eyes on the smaller WTC image. Maybe it was because I spent so much time in that area in the previous year or so. But I remember worrying that the building could fall.
And then I saw something happening. And I said, "What's happening?" The girl in front of me said didn't understand, so I clarified. "No I mean in New York, on the small screen. It looks different. Something's happened." And that's when they cut back to New York to report that one of the WTC towers had fallen.
A few minutes later, our division's director came by and informed us that we did, in fact, have people in one of the buildings. He didn't know which building they were in. He had last heard from them just before they got into the stairs to get out of the building. This was some time ago, and he was hopeful that they'd be out by now. After that he announced that we could go home and be with our families. I decided immediately that I was going to leave.
I called my wife, who was completely oblivious to anything that had happened. The way I talked on the phone, must have been very confused because she was scared that something had happened to me. I didn't know what to say or, really, how to talk. I just told her to turn on the TV, I'd be home in about 40 minutes.
By the time I got to my car, which was a 15 minute walk, the other tower had fallen.